Creating Custom Action Filters in ASP.NET MVC


applications the controller consists of one or more methods known as actions or
action methods. In certain cases you require that in addition to the code
written in the action method, some extra processing be carried out before or
after the action method execution. To accomplish this MVC offers what is known
as Action Filter. If you have programmed in ASP.NET MVC before, chances are
that you already used some in-built action filters. For example, the
[OutputCache] and [Authorize] attributes provided by ASP.NET MVC are actually
action filters. Additionally you can build your own action filters to fit a
specific purpose. This article teaches you just that.

Types of Action Filters

If an action method has more than one action filter applied,
the order in which they are executed is not fixed. This may not be desirable in
all the situations. Consider, for example, a case where your custom action
filter is doing some security checking and you wish to run it before any other
action filter runs. To take care of such situations the ASP.NET MVC framework provides
certain interfaces. Based on the interface your action filter implements its
execution order is determined. To be specific, the following four types of
action filters can be created based on the interface they implement.

  1. Authorization
    Filters : These filters are always run first before any other filters and they
    implement IAuthorizationFilter interface.
  2. Action
    Filters : Action filters run before and after the controller action method and
    implement IActionFilter interface.
  3. Result
    Filters : Result filters are executed before and after the view and implement
    IResultFilter interface.
  4. Exception
    Filters : These filters execute in the end and implement IExceptionFilter

Thus action filters are executed in the order 1-2-3-4 and
you can control where a specific custom filter goes with the help of
corresponding interface.

Technically an action filter is a class that inherits from
FilterAttribute base class and then implements required interfaces. Before we
go ahead and create our own action filter here is what a skeleton code looks
like :

public class MyActionFilterAttribute : FilterAttribute, IActionFilter
public class Home : Controller
   public ActionResult Index() {...}

To simplify your work ASP.NET MVC comes with a class –
ActionFilterAttribute that already inherits from the FilterAttribute base class
and implements IActionFilter and IResultFilter interfaces. So, as an
alternative you can also inherit your class directly from ActionFilterAttribute
base class and then override its methods.

Creating Your Own Action Filter

At a minimum a custom action filter class inherits from the
FilterAttribute base class. Based on your requirements you may need to perform
the following steps:

  1. Decide
    whether your custom action filter needs to have a specific order in the
    execution chain.
  2. Depending
    on the required order, implement IAuthorizationFilter or IActionFilter or
    IResultFilter or IExceptionFilter.
  3. If you are
    implementing IAuthorizationFilter interface then write implementation for OnAuthorization()
  4. If you are
    implementing IActionFilter interface then write implementation for
    OnActionExecuting() and OnActionExecuted() methods.
  5. If you are
    implementing IResultFilter interface then write implementation for
    OnResultExecuting() and OnResultExecuted() methods.
  6. If you are
    implementing from IExceptionFilter interface then write implementation for
    OnException() method.
  7. Decorate
    action methods with one or more action filters.

Sample Action Filters

In order to understand how action filters work you will
create the following four action filters :


ASP.NET MVC comes with an inbuilt action filter –
[Authorize] – that can be used for role based security. The [Authorize]
attribute, however, expects a role name at development time. For example, here
is a sample usage of [Authorize] attribute:


But what if you don’t know the role name at development
time? What if the roles allowed to invoke an action method are coming from a database?
In such cases you cannot use the [Authorize] attribute as shown above. To
tackle this problem you will create a ValidateUserRoles custom action filter
that will give you a chance to verify a currently logged in user against roles
that are pulled from the database (though we won’t write the actual database
code here to keep things simple). Clearly ValidateUserRoles is an authorization
filter and will implement IAuthorizationFilter interface.


At times you need to capture the IP address of the client
invoking an action method (say for security, tracking or analytical reasons).
The TrackUserIP action filter will do just that. The TrackUserIP is a normal
action filter and hence will implement IActionFilter interface.


A common scenario in web pages is to render advertisements.
One way to achieve this is to include advertisement rendering logic in the web
page itself. However, this approach may not be suitable in all the cases. The
DisplayAds action filter appends advertisements when a result is processed.
This way the view need not know anything about the advertisement display logic.
They are emitted in the final output by the DisplayAds action filter. Since
DisplayAds action filter works on the output of views it needs to implement
IResultFilter interface.


The NotifyException action filter sends a notification to an
email address whenever there is any error in an action method or view. You can
use this action filter to notify the administrator or technical team about the
exception so that corrective action can be taken if necessary. The
NotifyException action filter is an exception action filter and hence will
implement IExceptionFilter interface.

To begin developing these custom action filters, create a
new ASP.NET MVC 3 web application. You can either implement Forms
Authentication yourself or use the default mechanism. The following sections
assume that you have Forms Authentication and membership in place with a role –

Then create a folder named CustomFilters and add four class
files to it viz. ValidateUserRoles.cs, TrackUserIP.cs, DisplayAds.cs and

ValidateUserRoles Action Filter

The following listing shows the ValidateUserRoles action
filter :

public class ValidateUserRoles:FilterAttribute,IAuthorizationFilter
    public void OnAuthorization(AuthorizationContext filterContext)
        Debug.WriteLine("Inside OnAuthorization");
        if (filterContext.HttpContext.Request.IsAuthenticated)
            if (!Roles.IsUserInRole("Administrators"))
                ViewResult result = new ViewResult();
                result.ViewName = "SecurityError";
                result.ViewBag.ErrorMessage = "You are not authorized to use this page. Please contact administrator!";
                filterContext.Result = result;
            ViewResult result = new ViewResult();
            result.ViewName = "SecurityError";
            result.ViewBag.ErrorMessage = "You are not authenticated. Please log-in and try again!";
            filterContext.Result = result;


As you can see, the ValidateUserRoles class inherits from
the FilterAttribute base class and also implements the IAuthorizationFilter
interface. The IAuthorizationFilter interface expects you to write
implementation of the OnAuthorization() method.

The OnAuthorization() method receives a parameter of type
AuthorizationContext that gives you access to the underlying controller and
result. The code then checks whether the current request is authenticated or
not. If the request is authenticated it further checks the user role. In the
example above you have used the role name (Administrators) as a literal value but
in a more real world scenario you can fetch it from some database or
configuration file. If the user doesn’t belong to the specified role we create
a new ViewResult object based on the SecurityError view (you will create the
views later), set the ErrorMessage member of the ViewBag and then set the
Result property of the filterContext parameter. This way if the user doesn’t
belong to the Administrators role, an error message will be displayed on the
screen. If the user is not yet authenticated we display an appropriate error
message prompting him to log-in and try again.

TrackUserIP Action Filter

The TrackUserIP action filter inherits from the
FilterAttribute base class and implements IActionFilter. The following listing
shows the complete code of the TrackUserIP action filter.

public class TrackUserIP:FilterAttribute,IActionFilter
    public void OnActionExecuting(ActionExecutingContext filterContext)
        Debug.WriteLine("Inside OnActionExecuting");
        string userIP = filterContext.HttpContext.Request.UserHostAddress;

    public void OnActionExecuted(ActionExecutedContext filterContext)
        Debug.WriteLine("Inside OnActionExecuted");
        string userIP = filterContext.HttpContext.Request.UserHostAddress;
        LogIP(filterContext.HttpContext.Request.Url.PathAndQuery, userIP, "Completed");

    private void LogIP(string url,string ip,string msg)
        Debug.WriteLine(msg + " : " + url + "[" + ip + "] on " + DateTime.Now.ToString());


The IActionFilter interface requires that you implement
OnActionExecuting() and OnActionExecuted() methods. As you might have guessed
these methods are executed pre and post the controller action under
consideration. In both the methods we just log the IP address of the client to
the Visual Studio
Debug window. In a more realistic situation you will store it in some database.
So the sequence of execution will be OnActionExecuting() – Action Method –

DisplayAds Action Filter

The DisplayAds action filter is a result filter and
implements the IResultFilter interface. The complete code of the DisplayAds
action filter is given below:

public class DisplayAds:FilterAttribute,IResultFilter
    public void OnResultExecuting(ResultExecutingContext filterContext)
        Debug.WriteLine("Inside OnResultExecuting");
        filterContext.Controller.ViewBag.AdMarkup = GetAdMarkup();

    public void OnResultExecuted(ResultExecutedContext filterContext)
        Debug.WriteLine("Inside OnResultExecuted");

    private string GetAdMarkup()
        return "<hr />This is ad text.<hr />";

    private void UpdateAdImpressions()
        //write database code to increment
        //ad impressions here.

The IResultFilter interface expects you to implement
OnResultExecuting() and OnResultExecuted() methods. These methods are executed
before and after the view is processed. The OnResultExecuting() method
retrieves the ad markup based on some logic and sets a ViewBag member
accordingly. This way AdMarkup member is available to the view before rendering
the contents. The OnResultExecuted() method can be used to keep track of ad
impressions. Note that GetAdMarkup() and UpdateAdImpressions() methods don’t
contain any significant logic in the example above. In a real world scenario
you will have some database driven logic in these methods.

NotifyException Action Filter

The NotifyException action filter is an exception filter and
hence implements the IExceptionFilter interface. The complete code of the
NotifyException class is given below:

public class NotifyException:FilterAttribute, IExceptionFilter
    public void OnException(ExceptionContext filterContext)
        Debug.WriteLine("Inside OnException");

        if (filterContext.Exception != null)
            string msg = filterContext.Exception.Message;
            SmtpClient email = new SmtpClient();
            email.Send("[email protected]", "[email protected]", "Error in MVC application", msg);

The IExceptionFilter interface requires that you implement
the OnException() method. The OnException() method is called only if there is
any exception during the execution of the action or result. The Exception
property of the filterContext parameter gives you the Exception that was
thrown. You can then send an automated email using the SmtpClient class.

Using Custom Action Filters

Now that your custom action filters are ready, it’s time to
use them in some controller. Add a new controller named HomeController and code
the Index() action method as shown below:

public class HomeController : Controller
    public ActionResult Index()
        ViewBag.Message = "Welcome!";
        return View();


Notice how the Index() method is decorated with action
filter attributes. The Index() method simply sets a member of ViewBag (Message)
and renders the Index view. The Index view is shown below:

<head runat="server">
       <h1><%= ViewBag.Message %></h1>
    <%= (ViewBag.AdMarkup == null ? "" : ViewBag.AdMarkup)%>

Recollect that AdMarkup member is being set via the
DisplayAds action filter.

Before you run the application you need one more view –
SecurityError. The markup of the SecurityError view is shown below :

<head runat="server">
        <strong><%= ViewBag.ErrorMessage %></strong>
        <%= Html.ActionLink("Login","Login","Membership") %>

The SecurityError view simply displays the ErrorMessage as
set by the ValidateUserRoles action filter. A login link is also rendered so
that the user can navigate to the login page. (You will find the Membership
controller in the code download. If you are using some other mechanism of
authenticating users you should change the ActionLink call accordingly.)

Now run the web application and log-in to the system. If the
user is not an Administrator you should get an error message like this :

Error: User not an Administrator
Figure 1: Error: User not an Administrator

If the user belongs to the Administrators role you will be
able to view the Index view as shown below :

View the Index
Figure 2: View the Index

Notice how the advertisement markup as set by the DisplayAds
action filter is displayed. If you see a Visual Studio Output window, it should
resemble as shown below :

Visual Studio Window
Figure 3: Visual Studio Window

Notice the sequence of various Debug.WriteLine() statements
that are outputted.


In ASP.NET MVC applications, in addition to the code written
in the action methods, you may want some extra pre or post processing be
carried out. ASP.NET MVC allows you to do this with the help of Action Filters.
An action filter is a class that inherits from the FilterAttribute base class.
Depending on your need you can implement IAuthorizationFilter, IActionFilter,
IResultFilter or IExceptionFilter interfaces to make your filter an
authorization filter, action filter, result filter or exception filter
respectively. These interfaces decide the order in which the action filters are

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